NEW YORK – When the Flyers traded for Luke Schenn last summer, there was never a doubt as to who he would be paired with during his first season with his new team.
Kimmo Timonen has done this before – been a big brother on the ice of sorts to a young defenseman that the Flyers have high hopes for in the future.
In 2007-08 it was Braydon Coburn. In 2010-11 it was Andrej Meszaros. And now, it’s Schenn, who is going through the Timonen mentoring program.
And why not?
Timonen has been one of the steadiest, most reliable and most intelligent defensemen, not only in Philadelphia, but the entire NHL over the past six seasons, so playing defenseman with a lot of upside with Timonen makes sense to help their growth and development.
“There’s no question that whoever has been next to Kimmo since I’ve been here…. There’s an advantage,” said coach Peter Laviolette. “Kimmo sees the game and settles things down. He’s a very, very smart player. That’s not to take away from Coby or Mez or Luke, but it’s like when you were able to play next to Chris Pronger. You get an elite defenseman who is experienced and can see the play well and can really help a partner.”
Coburn, for instance, grew into a top pair-quality defenseman playing with Timonen for the better part of four seasons – from 2007 through 2011.
Now, he logs big minutes for the Flyers, playing wit Nick Grossmann (when healthy) and is an anchor on the Flyers blue line, which has allowed for Timonen to basically nurture other defensemen – including Schenn.
“It’s been huge playing with him,” Schenn said. “He’s been around a long time and he’s a real calm guy to play with. He make it real easy out there not just because of the type of player that he is, but because of the type of guy he is.”
And he’s the type of guy who is well-liked and well-respected in the locker room. He has strong opinions, but he is also a good teammate and won’t embarrass you in front of others but will pull you aside and talk to you if he thinks that is what’s called for.
“If there’s something that I think is better to do another way [than they are] then I will tell them,” Timonen said of his young charges. “This is something that I’ve been doing for years and maybe you can try it and see if it works for you. I’ll tell you [Luke and I] talk a lot and discuss what we will do in different situations and I feel like when you talk with your partner a lot it really helps down the road.”
And it’s paid dividends already for Schenn.
While he may be overshadowed bit because of the sizzling start by James van Riemsdyk in Toronto, the Flyers are quite happy with their return in the trade of top prospects last summer.
Schenn has had a very good season on the whole for the Flyers. He’s one of the best hitters in the league, blocks a ton of shots and actually has a nice first pass out of the defensive zone, making him more than just a one trick pony.
“What surprises me is how he can make plays and pass the puck,” Timonen said. “Every time you come to a new team it’s going to take time to get used to things. But he’s comfortable, and he has that confidence.
“And when you have that confidence you make good plays.”
Schenn is making those plays far more consistently now then when he was in Toronto, which is a testament to the work that not only he has put into his own game, but the work the Flyers have done to make Schenn a better player – and Timonen is smack dab in the middle of that molding.
“What’s really good about Kimmo is he constantly talks to his partner and makes him feel more comfortable,” Laviolette said. “I don’t want to take away from Luke and how valuable he’s been to the team because he’s been excellent since he’s been here, but he and Kimmo are a nice fit. They both have different strengths and together those strengths are a nice combination.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37